“Church History,” 1 March 1842

  • Source Note
  • Historical Introduction

Document Transcript

At the request of Mr. , Editor, and Proprietor of the “Chicago Democrat,” I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-Day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. says, that he wishes to furnish , a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation.
I was born in the town of Sharon Windsor co., Vermont, on the 23d of December, A. D. 1805. When ten years old my parents removed to New York, where we resided about four years, and from thence we removed to the town of .
My was a farmer and taught me the art of husbandry. When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James; “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him,” I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a [p. 706] heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.
On the evening of the 21st of September, A. D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of scripture on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded. This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.
I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation.
I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this , and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraven an abridgement of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent. The angel appeared to me three times the same night and unfolded the same things. After having received many visits from the angels of God unfolding the majesty, and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22d of September A. D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.
These records were engraven on plates which had the appearance of gold, each plate was six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving. With the records was found a curious instrument which the ancients called “Urim and Thummim,” which consisted of two transparent stones set in the rim of a bow fastened to a breastplate.
Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God.
In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this . This book also tells us that our Saviour made his appearance upon this continent after his resurrection, that he planted the gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists; the same order, the same priesthood, the [p. 707] same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessing, as was enjoyed on the eastern continent, that the people were cut off in consequence of their transgressions, that the last of their prophets who existed among them was commanded to write an abridgement of their prophesies, history &c., and to hide it up in the earth, and that it should come forth and be united with the bible for the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the last days. For a more particular account I would refer to the Book of Mormon, which can be purchased at , or from any of our travelling elders.
As soon as the news of this discovery was made known, false reports, misrepresentation and slander flew as on the wings of the wind in every direction, the house was frequently beset by mobs, and evil designing persons, several times I was shot at, and very narrowly escaped, and every device was made use of to get the plates away from me, but the power and blessing of God attended me, and several began to believe my testimony.
On the 6th of April, 1830, the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” was first organized in the town of , Ontario co., state of New York. Some few were called and ordained by the spirit of revelation, and prophesy, and began to preach as the spirit gave them utterance, and though weak, yet were they strengthened by the power of God, and many were brought to repentance, were immersed in the water, and were filled with the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. They saw visions and prophesied, devils were cast out and the sick healed by the laying on of hands. From that time the work rolled forth with astonishing rapidity, and churches were soon formed in the states of , , , Indiana, and ; in the last named state a considerable settlement was formed in ; numbers joined the church and we were increasing rapidly; we made large purchases of land, our farms teemed with plenty, and peace and happiness was enjoyed in our domestic circle and throughout our neighborhood; but as we could not associate with our neighbors who were many of them of the basest of men and had fled from the face of civilized society, to the frontier country to escape the hand of justice, in their midnight revels, their sabbath breaking, horseracing, and gambling, they commenced at first ridicule, then to persecute, and finally an organized mob assembled and burned our houses, tarred, and feathered, and whipped many of our brethren and finally drove them from their habitations; who houseless, and homeless, contrary to law, justice and humanity, had to wander on the bleak prairies till the children left the tracks of their blood on the prairie, this took place in the month of November, and they had no other covering but the canopy of heaven, in this inclement season of the year; this proceeding was winked at by the government and although we had warrantee deeds for our land, and had violated no law we could obtain no redress.
There were many sick, who were thus inhumanly driven from their houses, and had to endure all this abuse and to seek homes where they could be found. The result was, that a great many of them being deprived of the comforts of life, and the necessary attendances, died; many children were left orphans; wives, widows; and husbands widowers.—Our farms were taken possession of by the mob, many thousands of cattle, sheep, horses, and hogs, were taken and our household goods, store goods, and printing press, and type were broken, taken, or otherwise destroyed.
Many of our brethren removed to where they continued until 1836, three years; there was no violence offered but there were threatnings of violence. But in the summer of 1836, these threatnings began to assume a more serious form; from threats, public meetings were called, resolutions were passed, vengeance and destruction were threatened, and affairs again assumed a fearful attitude, was a sufficient precedent, and as the authorities in that county did not interfere, they boasted that they would not in this, which on application to the authorities we found to be too true, and after much violence, privation and loss of property we were again driven from our homes.
We next settled in , and counties, where we made large and extensive settlements, thinking to free ourselves from the power of oppression, by settling in new counties, with very few inhabitants in them; but here we were not allowed to live in peace, but in 1838 we were again attacked by mobs [p. 708] an exterminating order was issued by , and under the sanction of law an organized banditti ranged through the country, robbed us of our cattle, sheep, horses, hogs &c., many of our people were murdered in cold blood, the chastity of our women was violated, and we were forced to sign away our property at the point of the sword, and after enduring every indignity that could be heaped upon us by an inhuman, ungodly band of maurauders, from twelve to fifteen thousand souls men, women, and children were driven from their own fire sides, and from lands that they had warrantee deeds of, houseless, friendless, and homeless (in the depth of winter,) to wander as exiles on the earth or to seek an asylum in a more genial clime, and among a less barbarous people.
Many sickened and died, in consequence of the cold, and hardships they had to endure; many wives were left widows, and children orphans, and destitute. It would take more time than is allotted me here to describe the injustice, the wrongs, the murders, the bloodshed, the theft, misery and woe that has been caused by the barbarous, inhuman, and lawless, proceedings of the state of .
In the situation before alluded to we arrived in the state of in 1839, where we found a hospitable people and a friendly home; a people who were willing to be governed by the principles of law and humanity. We have commenced to build a city called “” in Hancock co., we number from six to eight thousand here besides vast numbers in the around and in almost every county of the . We have a city charter granted us and a charter for a legion the troops of which now number 1500. We have also a charter for a university, for an agricultural and manufacturing society, have our own laws and administrators, and possess all the privileges that other free and enlightened citizens enjoy.
Persecution has not stopped the progress of truth, but has only added fuel to the flame, it has spread with increasing rapidity, proud of the cause which they have espoused and conscious of their innocence and of the truth of their system amidst calumny and reproach have the elders of this church gone forth, and planted the gospel in almost every state in the ; it has penetrated our cities, it has spread over our villages, and has caused thousands of our intelligent, noble, and patriotic citizens to obey its divine mandates, and be governed by its sacred truths. It has also spread into England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales: in the year of 1839 where a few of our missionaries were sent over five thousand joined the standard of truth, there are numbers now joining in every land.
Our missionaries are going forth to different nations, and in Germany, Palestine, New Holland, the East Indies, and other places, the standard of truth has been erected: no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing, persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the great Jehovah shall say the work is done.
We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.
We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We believe that a man must be called of God by “prophesy, and by laying on of hands” by those who are in authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, viz: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists &c.
We believe in the gift of tongues, prophesy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues &c.
We believe the bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we be [p. 709]lieve that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes. That Zion will be built upon this continent. That Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradasaic glory.
We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our conscience, and allow all men the same privilege let them worship how, where, or what they may.
We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law.
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul “we believe all things we hope all things,” we have endured many things and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is any thing virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praise worthy we seek after these things. Respectfully &c.,
JOSEPH SMITH. [p. 710]


  1. 1 Joseph Smith Sr. left Vermont in late summer or early fall 1816, when JS was ten years old. The rest of the Smith family joined him in Palmyra in early 1817, shortly after JS turned eleven. (Palmyra, NY, Record of Highway Taxes, 1817, Copies of Old Village Records, 1793–1867, microfilm 812,869, U.S. and Canada Record Collection, FHL; Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 3, [3]–[6]; JS History, vol. A-1, 131nA.)  
  2. 2 Some of the following language used to describe JS’s early visions quotes Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account.  
  3. 3 James 1:5.  
  4. 4 JS identified these two personages as God the Father and Jesus Christ. (JS History, vol. A-1, 3; see also JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 3; JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835; and JS, “Latter Day Saints,” p. 405.  
  5. 5 See Luke 17:23.  
  6. 6 JS also recounted this experience in JS History, ca. Summer 1832, 4; JS, Journal, 9–11 Nov. 1835; JS History, vol. A-1, 4–7; and JS, “Latter-day Saints.” He previously identified the messenger as Moroni. ([JS], Editorial, Elders’ Journal, July 1838, 42–44.)  
  7. 7 Much of the following account of the gold plates quotes Orson Pratt’s Interesting Account.  
  8. 8 JS organized the church in 1830 as the “Church of Christ”; an 1838 revelation established the full name of the church as used here.a The earliest sources place the meeting at Fayette, New York, and later JS documents support this designation.b Some later documents, including the present history, locate the meeting at Manchester. The discrepancy may originate with William W. Phelps, who was not involved with the church at the time of its organization and therefore appears to have misidentified the location. While preparing the Book of Commandments for publication based on Revelation Book 1, the editors (who included Phelps) added “given in Manchester, NY” to a 6 April 1830 revelation in chapter 22.c Records linked to Phelps or Orson Pratt (who was also not present at the church’s organizational meeting and who later spoke of Fayette as the correct location) state that the 6 April meeting took place in Manchester.d Later printings of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pratt’s Interesting Account either omit references to Manchester as the site or revise the meeting place to Fayette.e  (aArticles and Covenants, ca. Apr. 1830, in Doctrine and Covenants 2:1, 1835 ed. [D&C 20:1]; Revelation, 26 Apr. 1838, in JS, Journal, 26 Apr. 1838 [D&C 115:3–4].bRevelation, 6 Apr. 1830, in Revelation Book 1, p. 28 [D&C 21]; JS History, vol. A-1, 37.cSee Book of Commandments 22 [D&C 21]; compare Revelation Book 1, pp. 28–29.d“Prospects of the Church,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Mar. 1833, [4]; Pratt, Interesting Account, 23; Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 7 Oct. 1869, 13:193.eDoctrine and Covenants 45–46, 1835 ed. [D&C 21, 23]; Pratt, Remarkable Visions, 12.)
  9. 9 Although some of the original settlers of Clay County were determined to see the Latter-day Saints leave the county, the conditions surrounding the Saints’ departure were markedly less violent than was the earlier episode in Jackson County. (See Parkin, “History of the Latter-day Saints in Clay County,” chap. 8.)  
  10. 10 Boggs charged the state militia with restoring peace to northwest Missouri. If necessary, the governor ordered, the Mormons were to be “exterminated or driven from the state.” (Lilburn W. Boggs, Jefferson City, MO, to John B. Clark, Fayette, MO, 27 Oct. 1838, Mormon War Papers, MSA.)  
  11. 11 About twenty Mormons were killed during the “Mormon War” in Missouri. (LeSueur, 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, 162–168; Baugh, “Call to Arms,” 238–240, 253–298.)  
  12. 12 Although the number of Mormons driven from Missouri is unknown, the estimate of “twelve to fifteen thousand” appears to be too high. Others estimated that about eight thousand Mormons were driven from Missouri. (Eliza R. Snow, Caldwell Co., MO, to Isaac Streator, Streetsborough, OH, 22 Feb. 1839, photocopy, CHL; see also Hartley, “Almost Too Intolerable a Burthen,” 7n2.)  
  13. 13 This may be an overstatement of the Nauvoo population. Although some estimates ran even higher (an article in the 1 October 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons described “a population of 14 or 15,000”), a circa February 1842 church census listed 3,413 Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo. (“Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons, 1 Oct. 1842, 3:936–937; Platt, Nauvoo, vii; Leonard, Nauvoo, 179.)  
  14. 14 The Nauvoo charter was passed by the Illinois legislature and signed by the governor in December 1840. It included a provision for a city university. The agricultural and manufacturing association was incorporated in February 1841. (Journal of the Senate . . . of Illinois, 9 Dec. 1840, 61; Journal of the House of Representatives . . . of Illinois, 12 Dec. 1840, 110; An Act to Incorporate the City of Nauvoo [16 Dec. 1840], Laws of the State of Illinois [1840–1841], 52–57; An Act to Incorporate the Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association, in the County of Hancock [27 Feb. 1841], Laws of the State of Illinois [1840–1841], 139–141.)  
  15. 15 A revelation dated 8 July 1838 commanded the Quorum of the Twelve to depart on a mission to Europe. Most of the quorum, along with several other missionaries, left Commerce, Illinois, in 1839, arriving in England in April 1840. They proselytized throughout the British Isles until April 1841, adding approximately five thousand people to the church. (Revelation, 8 July 1838–A, in JS, Journal, 8 July 1838 [D&C 118]; Allen et al., Men with a Mission, 54–302.)  
  16. 16 Although this description of global missionary work reflected assignments and endeavors that had begun by this time, the effort was still in its infancy. After being appointed to fulfill a mission to the Jews, Orson Hyde traveled to Jerusalem, where on 24 October 1841 he dedicated the land in preparation for the gathering of “Judah’s scattered remnants.”a In July 1840, English convert William James Barratt emigrated to New Holland (now Australia) after being ordained an elder by George A. Smith.b The Times and Seasons noted that “Elder William Donaldson, member of the army” was “bound for the East Indies.”c Simeon Carter was assigned to Germany, but the call was suspended.d  (aOrson Hyde, “Interesting News from Alexandria and Jerusalem,” LDS Millennial Star, Jan. 1842, 2:132–136; see also Hyde, Voice from Jerusalem, 6–35. bDevitry-Smith, “William James Barratt,” 53–66.c“News from the Elders,” Times and Seasons, 1 Dec. 1840, 2:229.dJS History, vol. C-1, 1224.)
  17. 17 See 1 Timothy 4:14.  
  18. 18 See Ephesians 4:11.  
  19. 19 See 1 Corinthians 13:7.  
  20. 20 See Philippians 4:8.